The Volusia County Fair was originally chartered in 1923, with the late Earl Brown as the first fair manager. It was held at the fairgrounds located on Old New York Avenue by the train station. The fair became an annual event with the largest poultry show in the southeast. All the towns in this county were agriculturally oriented and each community placed an agricultural exhibit in the fair. The fairgrounds had eight large exhibit buildings. In addition, there was a large covered grandstand with a half-mile dirt track for auto racing. Today the sheriff department utilizes most of this space for a driver-training course.
In 1939, the United States was attempting to stay out of what was to become World War II, but wanted to help our allies in Europe. Women began sewing and knitting articles of clothing, linen, bedding, etc., and families began planting victory gardens to allow more food to be shipped to Europe. At this time, it was considered very unpatriotic to spend money or energy on a fair, which resulted in the transformation of the fairgrounds into an industrial site. This continued until the end of the war. By that time, most of the board of directors had either passed away or moved out the area. Mr. Earl Brown had become head of the state Chamber of Commerce and traveled all over the world promoting the state of Florida.
In 1955, Lee Maxwell, who was to become fair manager, paid a visit to the county agricultural agent, T.R. Townsend, and inquired if he would like to help revive the Volusia County Fair. Mr. Townsend replied he would help all he could, and brought up that a new board of directors would have to be appointed. The property known as the fairgrounds had reverted back to the Volusia County government and the grounds and buildings had been sold to the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. The circus allowed the Fair Association, at no charge, to hold the fair on the circus property in 1955-56. Then in 1957, they decided to rent the property for a very high price, causing the Fair Association to relocate the fair to the National Guard Armory and surrounding property form 1957-58. Within two years, the fair outgrew the Armory and was relocated to the area surrounding the old Navy Hospital at the DeLand Airport in 1959. This is approximately where Mrs. Fair's Fine Foods is now located. The Fair Association was given permission by the city of DeLand to utilize the large hospital building, which had to be transformed into an exhibit building. The fair spent money to remove partitions between the rooms and hallways, in addition the electrical wiring had to be redone to provide exhibit space. The hard work and expense paid off, for that year the fair was the most successful one held. This allowed all debts for the work performed to be paid in full and there was even money left.
Soon afterwards, the Fair Association learned they did not have a contract with the city for any future use of this building, which they had renovated, and discovered it had been rented to a furniture dealer. Once again, the fair did not have a home, so from 1960-1965 the annual Volusia County Fair was not held. In 1966, under the leadership of Bill Hester, chairman of the DeLand Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Committee, a plan was formed to acquire land for an agricultural center and fairgrounds in Volusia County. The existing board of directors of the Fair Association supported this idea and decided to hold the fair again that year. They also changed the name to the Volusia County Fair & Youth Show and appointed Hurbert Talton as manager. The fair was held in 1966 & 1967 in tents, no buildings, on the site where the DeLand YMCA is now located.
Through Mr. Hester's leadership, a private individual donated 20 acres of land east of I-4 on Highway 44, to build the agricultural center and provide a permanent location for the fairgrounds. In 1968, the first fair was held at the present location, and for two years it was held in tents. In 1969, Betty Nielsen (who later became Betty Dittman) was appointed fair manager, to replace Mr. Talton who had become ill and could no longer manage the fair. The county built the Commercial and Educational Buildings in 1970-71. Mrs. Dittman remained as manager until her resignation in 1980, and T.R. Townsend was appointed manager. Mr. Townsend saw the need for additional property to be used for parking lots, which the Fair Association purchased. Mr. Townsend retired in 1990, at which time David Viers was appointed manager. Through the efforts of many, the fair has grown to be one of the best county fairs in the state of Florida.
In 1994, through the efforts of the Agri-Business Inter-Relationship Committee, a proposal was made to the Volusia County council for major improvements to the fairgrounds. This was the first unanimous vote in the history of the council and construction began after the 1997 fair with a completion date of Oct. 2, 1998. This project included several new buildings and landscaping. The total investment for the improvements was just under $8 million. This major construction project is something all of Volusia County may be proud of. The economical impact of these improvements should be felt throughout the county as it provides another place to hold special events for residents of the area.
The fair has become a showcase for the youth of Volusia County. We know that self-esteem is important to every child. The feeling, which arises from accomplishing something and being rewarded for that accomplishment, is very satisfying. Hundreds of youths leave the fair every year "a winner." The participation of the area youth will always be the most important part of our fair. Today the Volusia County Fair and Youth Show is considered to be on the most successful, most educational, and most fun fair for all ages. Throughout the years, the enthusiasm and determination of its early founders has been endorsed by Volusia County with more than 10,000 youths having been involved in at least one of the many aspects of the fair.
Volusia County is rapidly growing and with the influx of new people there is a challenge for the Fair Association to make the fair bigger and better each year. We strive to create an environment, which attracts people to visit our fair and return often.
Saturday, Sep 18, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time
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